July 6, 2010 By Indrajit Basu, International Correspondent
Suwon, South Korea. Photo by Justin Paul Barrass
Which parameter would you consider first if you were to judge the success of an intelligent community? The extent to which it is wired and how ICT is shaping its development, perhaps?
Try judging on the basis of "gross domestic happiness" instead and you will come up with some interesting results. Suwon for example is a city just 20 miles south of Seoul and the provincial capital of Gyeonggi-do, South Korea.
Here happiness is the center of existence for its administration. So much so that the city government even has an ICT master plan, branded as U-Happy, while "every effort and every move of the city government is aimed at providing cutting-edge intelligent services to its citizens so that everybody can be happy," says Cheol-Soo Park, the man who heads the team that designed Suwon's intelligent community drive.
The Suwon government, adds Park, works round the clock to ensure the welfare of its residents and improve the quality of life. Consequently, while waiting for the bus every citizen knows exactly when the next bus will arrive at the stop. Every apartment owner has an RFID key that provides daily, detailed home-related information, including vehicle parking charges, energy use, and even groceries that need to be stocked up.
"We call our city Happy Suwon," added Park. Small wonder then, that, right in its first year of entry Suwon bagged the 2010 Intelligent Community of the Year award, given out by The Intelligent Community Forum, a New York think tank that promotes economic and social development of modern communities.
According to ICF's Co-Founder Louis Zacharilla, as the world "emerges from the global economic crisis, it is the investment made in people that produce the truly impressive financial return. And Suwon stands out not so much for its focus on technology -- which is de rigueur anyway for any intelligent community -- but more for its focus on the development of the human software and investment in education within this highly educated community."
While hundreds of communities around the world strive to craft the most effective model to turn intelligent, "Suwon may be a model community that the world can learn from," says Zacharilla.
Instead of starting with wiring the city and then using it to uplift the community, Suwon started with investing in the most crucial tool for development: education.
"What we can learn from Suwon is that investment in education is the most rational outlay that a government can make," said Park. Between 2002 and 2009, the city invested more than $360 million in upgrading school facilities, opening new schools and expanding staff. Another $186 million is being pumped in this year for funding the 2010 Suwon Education Development Support Plan, which includes 74 individual projects.
The second focus area was to bring in industry. The investment in education helped Suwon to build up a talent base and subsequently the Suwon city government started offering a plethora of incentives and building infrastructure to attract small- medium- and large-scale businesses, said Park.
Result: today Suwon's economy is booming on the back of small to midsize enterprises -- specializing in IT, biotech and nanotechnology -- that employ 94 percent of the labor in the city.
Broadband roll-out was no less significant as the city decided to develop its own governmental network despite South Korea's impressive broadband infrastructure. Called Ubiquitous Suwon Master Plan -- or U-Happy -- this plan allowed Suwon to boost connection speeds from 32 Mbps to a blazing 1 Gbps.
"With its help, Suwon is now a city where all urban functionalities are high-tech and intelligent,"